the toddler and the machine

Day in, day out, Ari pesters me with requests to play computer games. And while I remain impressed at how easily he has learned to navigate the computer, I get increasingly worried at how addicting the computer can be to my 4-year old.

Computers have become such a necessity nowadays even I find it hard to get by without accessing the internet at least once in a day. Working as an independent consultant, my netbook is practically my office–data storage, processing and presentation all happen here. I normally work from home and it should not come as a surprise that my kids are as interested in tinkering with the computer as they often see me do.

The computer is a fantastic learning tool. My kids plays number and alphabet games, puzzle and matching games using the computer. Imagine the cost of having to buy a new puzzle each week as Ari gets tired of the puzzles he’s already mastered putting together, or a new set of flash cards every so often because Uri’s already memorized all the pictures on them.

Playing games on the computer used to be one exciting reward for my kids. We play games together so I can teach them as they get entertained by colorful visuals. More recently however, Ari’s computer skills has increased such that he has learned to turn on and shutdown the compute by himself. He now knows how to navigate youtube while watching car racing videos. And instead of working as an incentive, it now works for me as a babysitting activity so I could finish all my morning chores while Ari is occupied in the PC. Yes, I give Ari one solid hour to play computer games as I busy up prepping breakfast and do some house cleaning. I am one guilty mother indeed.

I think I now have a computer addict for a son. Ari now literally begs to play games on the computer more times in a day than I hear him ask for milk or juice. Now he likes playing outside less, rides his bike less frequently. He’s always on the lookout for whoever will turn on the computer and immediately sits on that person’s lap.

Of course I recognize the benefits—hours of quiet fun as I finish my deadlines, inexpensive childhood learning resources, improved hand-eye coordination—part of the reason why I allow my children to be in the computer at a limited amount of time per day. But I still am getting very much worried at how habit forming computer usage can be, particularly for Ari, who’s the older one and more adept at computer use.

There is now a conscious effort on my part to always try to divert Ari’s attention from the computer. We have cooking sessions more often—Ari loves helping out in the kitchen and now I give him more kitchen tasks than before. He now has a hand in wrapping siomai and lumpia, even helps out in washing his own dishes, spoons and cups.

Aside from spending weekends on the beach, I was on the lookout for a regular summer activity for the kids. Only I found them a bit too expensive. More than three thousand pesos for a 10-session swimming class, and I have two boys to enroll! So instead I set up a 2-feet inflatable pool in the garage and invited my cousins and nieces to come over for a swimming party. We’ve had the pool for about a week now and the kids have swimming fun at least 3x in a day.

Turo also gets the kids to help out in washing the car with some regularity, and also watering the garden plants.

When it started raining in the afternoons, my boys had more indoor time than during the peak of the summer season. And Ari will strike again with his constant pleading to play with the computer. I’m still quite lost on how to handle this situation. I’m hoping things would change when Ari starts school in June. And as I finish my work contracts one by one so I could have more time supervising their development. I’m still worried that this may just be the start of things getting out of hand, but I’ll try my best to not let this happen. I just need a few more creative ideas and I’m sure I’ll be able to tackle this situation head on. I hope. I hope.


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